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Don Rogers: Exit Here from pandemic

In Maryland, June passed with zero deaths among people smart enough to get vaccinated. Only unvaccinated people died in the state last month, 130 of them.

Nearly all the serious cases and hospitalizations across the country now — including for the young — are happening to the unvaccinated, as many as 99%. Same story regionally and locally, all comporting with the clinical trials and the success in the field some 335 million doses in.

The national map of states and voting districts that went for then-President Donald Trump shows they trail in vaccinations and dominate in new infections and deaths.



The lesson is straightforward: Get your shots.

We’ve come a long way since rubbing the pus from cowpox blisters onto the skin and scratches of children to prevent smallpox. The stuff cultured in eggs, the live and dead bugs that made up the generation of vaccines for polio, measles, tetanus and so on, is giving way to messenger RNA, the next progression.




COVID came along at a providential time to give research since the 1980s and the development of the current vaccines a real boost. The infusion of funding, focus and in our country, President Trump’s full-throated support, fast-tracked the process safely.

Yes, I know he said a lot of things. But this actually helped. Too bad so many of his supporters have fooled themselves about the disease and the value of these vaccinations. Here’s one more example of two Americas and the deadly consequences of relying on political rhetoric for personal health decisions.

The evidence for the vaccinations approved for use in our country is a lot stronger than for masking or lockdowns, too. A distinct black–and-white compared to those confusing grays that partisans have aimed to shade their way.

In a pandemic beset by fog, here is a rare clear path. Not only for today’s disease, but those to come.

FIRE

Today and tomorrow’s gene-editing techniques both play with fire and steal fire from the gods.

There are two basic branches: germline editing and gene therapy. And two basic components: DNA and RNA. Tools such as CRISPR make the ability to edit easier, more efficient and less expensive.

On the therapy side, innovations soon will make quick diagnosis, treatment and vaccination possible against a host of diseases well beyond COVID. Think personalized vaccination/treatment for cancers and maybe even every viral and bacterial illness.

On the germline side: Bad genes underlying horrors such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis — all the inheritable stuff — can be edited out for the individual and their offspring, barring further edits. Some of this we can do now but don’t, outside of clinical trials.

That’s the bright side. Darker are our impulses for genetic enhancement, bioweaponry, and much perhaps we can’t anticipate yet.

What kind of civilization will we have, for instance, when parents can order their children from a menu? Talk about the potential for two Americas, though this would not go by markers like D or R, but who could afford to become a dominant species apart. Leave this all to nature and risk becoming the next Neanderthal?

We’re on the cusp of evolving from chance to choice, able to create ourselves in our own image — and from there to the limits of our imagination.

GIFTS

What is God’s will? That seems an ever more relevant question.

Certainly there endure believers who presume to speak for God, often from the pulpit. God didn’t intend for humans to fly, to get vaccinated, so on.

And others, some also from the pulpit, who reason that our God-given gifts include the intellect to invent. So we have. Language, engineering, art, religion, the scientific method.

I asked a friend in Colorado, about as fundamentalist a Baptist preacher as could be, if a sentient AI entity would be welcome in church, could be baptized into the faith. Absolutely, he said to my surprise. God is wondrous and mysterious. If He allows such a conscious and moral being, who are we to argue?

And so here we are, in this vein, pondering questions from long before test tube babies and Dolly, the same we might have asked while creating cocker spaniels and tasteless tomatoes bred to hold up through the bumpy ride to the supermarket.

Manipulating genes is only fine tuning skills we’ve been developing since we learned to sharpen flint and came up with the bright idea to plant crops.

Now we can fix this thing with viruses and bacteria directly, sculpt our genome for good. One rogue scientist edited embyros that led to the births of twins in 2018 freed of genetic propensity for AIDS. And not just them, but someday their children and children’s children.

We make our lives safer, healthier, easier. We raise the stakes for our species higher and higher. Prometheus, Pandora? These questions go back that far, at least.

But let’s not get so far ahead of ourselves. The COVID vaccines are not germline adjustments to our genome.

They only follow a familiar path in helping our bodies develop antibodies that bust up dangerous viruses, another advancement on what began with the milkmaids. That was gene editing, too, as campfire to central heating.

This other box remains closed, for now, no myth.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299


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